Episode 610: Costa Rica Don Joel Finca Carmela Red Honey Villa Sarchi
This is our fifth year buying from the folks at Finca Carmela. The 3-hectare farm is owned by Allan Oviedo Rodriguez and his family, along with the neighbouring Finca La Cumbre, and the Don Joel micromill which services the processing needs of both farms (along with occasional small lots for their neighbours when there's space as they've got a good reputation for it).
Finca Carmela is located right on the border between the Central and Western Valleys, in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. Situated around 1600 metres above sea level, the farm is just a short 5 minute drive away from their first farm La Cumbre on the other side of the hill.
Allan has been producing coffee in the area for 18 years; he grew up in a coffee family and learnt the traditional producing methods alongside his father (Don Joel) and brothers. It was during these early years that he saw the difficulties that came with making a living as a coffee farmer, such as poor returns for what is a very demanding job, and the ever-increasing cost of living.
When Allan inherited his first farm La Cumbre (the larger family farm was divided between him and his brothers when Don Joel passed away) he decided to implement changes to improve their lot. During his early years of owning the farm he used to work as a taxi driver in San Jose by night and managing the farm by day to make ends meet. But owning the farm was his dream and he was ardently focused on giving that security to his family.
With a mix of willingness to try new things, an eye for detail, and the ability to learn quickly, Allan was able to keep improving his farm. A regular visitor to the wet mill where his coffee was being processed, he took a keen interest in how the processes worked and how the best results could be achieved, which lead him to build his own micromill on La Cumbre, naming it after his father. He began to work on replanting the land with a focus on high-quality cup profile. The varietals he chose to work with were Caturra, Catuai, and Villa Sarchi.
Finca Carmela followed when Allan was able to invest in expanding his growing area, and here planted mainly Villa Sarchi and Typica, which he's now been tending for 4 years. Allan employs 2 staff outside harvest season, and staffing during the harvest will depend how good the year is - 7 people in a bad year, up to a maximum of 20 in a really good year.
Despite the very short distance between the two farms, they exhibit interestingly different microclimates that impact the way that the coffee thrives. For example, rain may reach one side of the mountain but not the other, strong winds can damage one whilst the other is sheltered. These factors may seem small, but can make a big difference in terms of when the coffee plant goes into flower, how much sun it gets, whether plants get damaged etc and this all adds up.
You can see Poás Volcano from La Cumbre, which makes the farm roughly North-East facing, whereas Carmela is more South-East as you can see back towards San Jose. Think about it like planting up your garden at home - south facing? lots of shade? good drainage? Shelter from wind? all of these things are going to have an effect on what sort of plants are happiest living there, and happy plants are the first step towards tasty coffee!
Like a lot of Costa Rican producers, Allan’s scale is very small. However, he’s got an interest in the wider world and wider coffee market which we’ve only usually seen in producers who are much larger and well-travelled. On his most recent visit, Roland spent the day with him and over a delicious dinner (cooked by his wife) they quizzed him on global coffee trends, new processes and origins, what customers liked and didn’t, British politics, roasting… it was wide-ranging! Roland says "I was there with Davian, who works with our exporters. His English is a bit better than my Spanish, but not by a long way, so I can say it was quite a challenge to explain Brexit! (Thank you Google Translate)."
Of the people we work with, Allan is situated the closest to Poás Volcano - only 7km away. He had worked incredibly hard building up the farm, taking on Carmela and expanding La Cumbre - then it spewed ash over the area in 2019. It really brings home the risks a producer takes when they invest in their farm. In one swoop, all his plants had leaves hidden by ash and all he could do was hope the rains would come quickly to wash it away. This was further impacted by the 2019 El Niño, where warming reinforced the dry season patterns January through April and reduced rainfall during the rainy season in June through December. All this added up to a very difficult period for production in Costa Rica, but we're pleased to hear that things are much more positive this year and Allan has managed to get a great crop from Carmela.
It's milk chocolate and lime all the way here. Super sweet and clean, on the finish there's an unusual delicate hint of mint which I love, before the aftertaste brings sweet caramel and chocolate again.
Clean cup: (1–8): 6.5
Sweetness: (1–8): 7
Acidity: (1–8): 6.5
Mouthfeel: (1–8): 6
Flavour: (1–8): 6.5
Aftertaste: (1–8): 6
Balance: (1–8): 6.5
Overall: (1–8): 6.5
Total (max. 100): 87.5
Medium - into the gap at a nice steady pace, but drop it before second gets going.
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